upper room daily devotions

Sunday, January 14, 2007

faith, budgets, and the small church

I have a great deal of faith in the power of God. I believe strongly in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And I know that Jesus invites us all into difficult places to do important work on behalf of God's peaceable kindom. So, if my faith is so strong, why do I totally freak out about my local church's budget? What is the right balance between 1) faith in God's call, the power and presence of the Holy and Spirit, and responding to Jesus' call to unwavering discipleship, and 2) responsible stewardship, responsible bookkeeping, and realistically understanding the reality before us?

The church that I serve is filled with wonderful people. We are getting younger and more active each year. Yet we also face the stranglehold of the high cost of building maintenance, the expensive nature of having a full time ordained clergyperson, and the associated costs of other staff. I have no idea how to sort through the interaction of faith and reality, of risky ministry and responsible stewardship, of moving forward boldly and maintaining the community already assembled.

Tonight I'm not someplace that I had planned to be. My stomach is too upset, and I know 100% that this is stress related. We will find a way through this year; that much I know. What I don't know about are following years. Further, I know that our work to pare down our budget to meet what we can spend entails the devastation of line items that support certain missions and all programs and activities that support growth. We must find a way to support growth, not just maintain what we have. Even small churches need some growth, even if they intend to remain small.

My church is small. The people want it to remain small. In the intimacy of this community many people find family, support, and community. They have no desire for this to turn into a place where they are lost. How do we do this and also have financial health?


John Meunier said...

What an important question.

My limited experience, though, suggests church size is not the crucial issue. I attend and serve on the Finance Committee of a large church (at least by Indiana standards). And we have exactly the same struggle.

The costs of maintaining our church (and this isn't just building costs) seem to devour all funds before there is ever any talk of mission.

I'm sure it is a matter of vision. When we worry about what we want to hold on to rather than being radically open to God's call - even if that disrupts what we like about our current situation - then we constrict the space for Holy Spirit to work in our congregation.

Please forgive my presumption.

My comments are more about my own church, I suspect, than they are any kind of informed response to your situation.

rev katie m ladd said...

I think you're exactly right. That is my struggle-to remain open to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit without taking on the anxiety of my ego or the congregation. I appreciate your words.

RevErikaG said...

I've been in the same situation, Katie, and it is very hard to be open when budgets cause problems in the local church like talking about money can cause problems in some marriages. Recently I was at a District meeting where our District lay leader said, "The big problem for local churches is trying to feed their pastors. Annual Conferences should pay churches." Ouch. As the Church shrinks, grows gray, feels desperate (and in small churches, try and find ways to cover all the bases with fewer people), it is easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain. As you mention in your next blog entry, people in the church lack vision for their context...and that is often spelled out in the budget. I realize this is neither comforting or helpful, but know that I understand the struggle. Thanks for the great words you share here!

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